ICFF 2017: Decoration over Design

NEW YORK CITY – Interior designers have fought tooth and nail to not be labelled as ‘decorators’, but if the presentations at ICFF were anything to go by, American product designers are more than happy to fulfil the role.

Following in the footsteps of their Italian counterparts – but without the manufacturing legacy behind them – product designers at ICFF focused on visual appeal. It’s all very nice, but is it interesting? Or perhaps the bigger question is, just how important is ‘interesting’? As I spoke to a number of designers at the fair about why they were doing what they were doing, often to be told, ‘because it looks good’, I was reminded of a quote from Alfredo Häberli back in Frame 107: ‘I stopped explaining products, which is what we did at design school. What was your thought process? What was the intention? Nowadays, I say the product has to speak for itself. It’s something I learned from the Italians. They look at it and either they like it or they don’t. They don’t ask about the idea the way that Germanic people do. Che bello is enough.’

Stereotypically Germanic (according to Häberli), I felt like I was searching for meaning when perhaps there wasn’t any. And che bello seemed to be what the general audience was after. Was the phenomenon linked to American stereotypes of superficiality and consumerism? Whereas a few stands focused on topical directions – Michael Graves College + Ecovative were growing materials from mycelium, for instance, and Pratt Institute tackled the ageing population with projects for people living with Alzheimer’s – as a whole, the trade fair felt like a home decorator’s Pinterest paradise.

Michael Graves College + Ecovative presented materials grown from mycelium.

Amidst the aesthetics-driven designs, some pieces did stand out. Uhuru’s Fold collection had a relevant sense of place, inspired by objects flattened in the streets of Brooklyn – particularly the metal straps used to attach goods to pallets and boxes in the studio’s neighbourhood of Red Hook. There was also something alluring about Bower’s display – an updated approach to Art Deco, perhaps? – with its intriguing material mash-ups and strong graphic forms.

Bower’s Ring Chair combines steel and copper with carpet-like wool upholstery.

Will it be the younger generation of designers that starts to crave meaning? Walker Nosworthy and Siena Smith, BFA students at RISD, looked at the upholstery process with fresh eyes in their Warp Lounge project (pictured in the title image of this article), using iridescent yarn to create visual distortion. Over at the stand of fledgling studio Trueing, Josh Metersky and Aiden Bowman tapped into the dichroic glass trend with their Janus table lamp, whose poetic inspiration was one of Saturn’s outermost rings and the Roman deity of transitions. The pair call themselves ‘context-driven product designers’ who ‘give deference to the materials, functionality and people involved’.

Studio Trueing presented the Janus table lamp, whose poetic inspiration was one of Saturn’s outermost rings and the Roman deity of transitions.

If there was one overriding visual trend at the fair and other NYCxDesign events, it was a tendency towards sharpness, cuts and splices – not unlike the political divide in the country. But maybe that’s just me, searching for meaning.

Uhuru’s straight-edged Fold collection was inspired by objects flattened in the streets of Brooklyn.

Pictured in the title image: Walker Nosworthy and Siena Smith, BFA students at RISD, wrapped hand-moulded silicone pads in fabric made from nylon, lanyard and monofilament for their Warp Lounge.

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